Spend enough time on Twitter with any knowledge of history and something will soon become eminently clear: there’s a lot of bad history being cited on Twitter. Whether it’s the result of honest mistakes, intentional disinformation or satirically-minded pranks, the amount of false information found on Twitter (and, more broadly, social media) is enough to leave believers in the importance of facts profoundly unsettled.
Writing for The New Yorker, Lizzie Widdicombe spoke to a community of historians who have made it their mission to correct disinformation on Twitter.
There are some resources around fact-checking outside of Twitter, mind you — Snopes being the most pre-eminent. But there’s also an immediacy to the efforts of the historians Widdicombe profiled here — known colloquially as Twitterstorians. Among the best-known are Kevin M. Kruse of Princeton University and Heather Cox Richardson of Boston College.
Not surprisingly, one of the Twitterstorians’ favorite things about Twitter is the way it allows them to cite primary sources. As Widdicombe writes:
Leah LaGrone Ochoa, a Ph.D. candidate at Texas Christian University, noted that Twitter has some advantages as a medium for debate. “What it allows us to do as historians is inject evidence into the universe,” she said. “Screenshots of newspapers from different time periods. Letters that politicians wrote to each other.”
In an increasingly partisan world, where things once taken for granted are now frequently up for debate, it’s not necessarily clear if the Twitterstorians have changed abundant hearts and minds. But then again, it’s not surprising that historians would take the long view. In other words, history has a way of looking back fondly on the people who stood up for facts and principles in turbulent times.
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